Debbie Larkins

Personal experiences convinced Debbie to start a degree after already having worked in a successful career. Now she hopes to help people understand that scientific issues are actually social issues.

Iwi: Te Rarawa

Programme: Bachelor of Science

Subject: Chemistry

Debbie spent two decades working in a successful career and never had any real interest in tertiary study until various members of her family started having health problems. “My Nanna in particular contracted an antibiotic resistant “superbug” and spent many months in hospital. During that time, our family found it difficult to understand what the doctors were telling us and yet we were still expected to make decisions based around this information. This led me to become the ‘researcher’ in our family, disseminating information in ways that others could understand.”

This experience sparked an interest in science and Debbie came to the realisation that science communications in Aotearoa and the world was severely lacking. “I chose my major because I believe all hard sciences (biological sciences/ environmental science etc) have some chemistry elements driving their field – to understand them, you need an understanding of chemistry.”

It was challenging going to university as a mature student. “Starting university with students that were the same age as my friend’s children was very intimidating for me. Walking into a lecture theatre in first year felt like I was starting from scratch.”

However, taking part in the Tuākana programme helped Debbie to feel like she belonged. “Being part of the Tuākana programme, having the study sessions and meeting people in small groups gave me a sense of belonging in this strange new environment."

I was no longer just a face in the crowd but part of a group that didn’t just learn together but taught and encouraged each other to learn as well.

Debbie Larkins

Debbie is now also a Tuākana tutor, a role that harnesses her experiences of managing others in the workplace and being a mature student to support fellow students. “Building relationships and helping others succeed in their studies has been fundamental for my growth as a student. As a tutor, I have mentored students both academically and pastorally – both have been equally as fulfilling.”

After her undergraduate degree, Debbie hopes to continue with postgraduate study, and most importantly “helping people understand that scientific issues are actually social issues.”